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narrator: the thousand yearsgo in souern mexico, an unprecedent culture flourished in the jungle nearhe gulf coast. rivers meandering through the hot, tropical lowlands were the region's lifeblood. theswaterwayfor transportion and trade encouraged agriculture. annual floods left deposits of fertile soil, ideal for growing maize, squash and beans. more than two thousand years later, the aztecs called this region "olman," or "rubber country,"
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the name of the peoples. who dwelled there in antiquity is lost, but they have become known as olmec. to express their political and religious beliefs, the ancient olmec invented imagery of spellbinding power. they carved monumental sculptures fm volcanic rock without mel tools, ing hammers and chisels made ostone. they transported massive blocks of basalt, weighing up to 20 ns, across miles of teory thout benefit of the wel. they built the first pyramid in the americas, rising 100 feet anma of ren the anhalf millionubic ft ofd-pa eth. they fasoned delicate, and often deeply expressive,
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works of art in ceramic, serpentine and jade. the result was the most sophisticated artistic style yet created in the americas. thstyle developed throughout mesmerica, which extends from central meco to present-day costa rica. the most striking olmec achievements have been found in southern mexico, at sites such san lorenzo, la venta, tres zapotes nearhe gulf coast, and tlatilco and chalcatzingo in the highlands. in the 18th and 19th centuries, finely carved jades from mesoamerica began to appear in museums and private collections. no one knew what to make of them. some were labeled chinese, others maya or aztec. in 1862, farmer's discovery of a hugstone head at tres zapote
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triggered speculation that it had be carved by africans who had immigrated the americas. newsre annncer: pulling it for two hos ov swampland is the last ste of our trip to the spot whe we hope to find thbig stone heads of which we have heard exciti rors. obregon: archaeologist matthew stirng setutn 1939 to unravel the mystery of these strange works of art, which by then were being called "olmec." sponsored by the smhsonian institut e al geraphic s thifemarian to mexico, launchinthe exvations on the southergulf coast no onenew how old the olmec culture was. many thought it was contemporary or later than tssic maya, w flourish from 300 to 9 a.d. newsreel announcer: and here is our objective: tres zapotes, our source of supplies and ofabor
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during the first t seasons of ahalogical work here in the southern part of the state of veracruz. new speaker: we'd only been working at tres zapotes for about ree weeks and matt decided he wanted to dig out a big stone in front of the largest mound at the site. so he took ten men and went out to dig it up. new speaker: one of the workmen told me of having an encounter with this whole bit of solid stone that was projecting above the ground. stirling pugh: but matt had stubbed his toe on a rock not too far away. and while he was there, he thought he might just as well dig that up too. and much to his surprise, it turned out to be a broken stela with a jaguar ma on the front. stirling: so we excavad this and found this b-and-dot date runninacross the back of the monument
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we deciphered it and und that icarrie a date of noer 4, 31 b.c. stirli pugh: but at the time, 31 b.c. was the earliest dated monument in the new world. obregon: stirling's reang of the date as 31 b.c. would mean that is calendar system predated the classic maya by some 300 years. stirling pugh: well, this caused a lot of consternation among the mayanists. eric thompson, the famous maya epigrapher, wrote a paper about it. he wouldn't speak to us at meetings. obregon: but mexican artistndscholars and ththropologistlfso casoar srling's vi. stling pugh: it was athat time that alfonso caso announced that he considered the olmec the mother culture of mesoamerica
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and at that time, that just put the olmec on the map, because he was the outstanding mexican anthropologist. obregon: in fact, the origins of olmec art turned out to be far older than even covarrubias, caso and stirling imagined. radiocarbon dating at san lorenzo and other olmec sis hapued back the ginning olmec culture by more than a milleium, to circa 1,200 b.c. newsreel announcer: now we're off for the second phase of our exploration. obregon: stirling beganigging at san lorenzo in 1946, with the archaeologist philip dcker. stirling pugh: and sure enough, ere was a big head, a beautifully carved big head, much finer [d] more ndsome thanhe ones ata venta. obregon: stirling proposethat these enigmatic sculptures wereortraits of prominent individuals in olmec society.
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mostf the vast site of san lorenzo remains to be explored. new speaker: we now know athe sitecove m, making it the laest and most complex site in mesoamerica duri the earlyressic orhearlyormative period. obregon: the elite resided on the huge manmade plateau that dominates the site. one house, calle the "red palace," had stone columns and steps and was supplied with war channeled fromeservoirs. ordinary people may have lived in the pm-thatched houses, like some still found ere today. the populationncluded artisans skilled in specializedrafts. cyphers: we have a lot of evidence for workshop activity here. there are areas where theyorked obdian, green stone and even monuments were worked here.
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the olmecs stored previously made stone monuments and then reworked them or recycled them into another shape with another iconogrhy. we found the tenth and newest colossal head at san lorenzo last year. it wasound in the ravine, a ravine called e ca de la hoche, where three other colossal headhave been found. across the top of the headdress, a three-digited hand or claw descends. this insignia probably has something to do with the name of the person represented. each colossal head is a portrait of a ruler from olmec times. eachis very different from all the other faces and the expressions are different. thisne has a very benign expressio the lossal hd anorted
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to the comnity musm tenochtitlan. so now, with the help of the town, we're building aetter home for all the sculpture we have housed there. obregon: these portraits are carved of stone in a region where stone is not naturally available. enormous blocks of basalt weighing many tons apiece were carried witut beasts of burden some 60 miles from distant mountains. the magnitude of this task is clear evidence of the ruler's power and authority over a large and efficient labor force. olmec culture at san lorenzo declined around 900 b.c., perhaps because of environmental change, warfare, or competition from other sites. whatever the cause, the demise of san lorenzo cocided wi the rise of another olmec cter, la venta. located near the gulf coast on high ground
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surrounded in ancient times by swamps and rivers, la venta floished from about 900 to00 b.c. this hill is actuay a manmade mounta of earth, pack io theshape of a p. the pyramid is theocus of a who complex of smallerthen mounds, carefully consucted on a north-south axis to form la venta's political and religious center. excavations in the area to the north of the pyramid, lefirst by stirling in the '40s and later in the 1950s by philip drucker and robert heizer, revealed a ceremonial courtyard encled by hundreds of basalt columns, each weighing close to one ton. burial mou at the north side of thcourt contained a ba tomb for two high-ranking children. theibos hadisintegrate butheir nants ined
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buried beneath e layers of clay, each of a different color, and several more layers of adobe blocks, was a saic pavement measuring 15 by 20 feet. its green serpentine stones form the slid fa of supertural being. the mosaic rested on top of 28 layers of rough stones, more than 1,000 tons worth, bbrought 150 miles from the mountains near the pacific coast. this was aenormous feat, and three such mosaics were found at the site. few feet beath threni court, a cache of small, typically olmec figures appeared, with almond-aped eyes and bald, elongated heads. as a mark of beauty or status, the skulls of some individuals were deformed in early cldhood when the bones were stilsoft.
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made of jade, serpentine and granite, these figures seem to enact a ritual now forgotten. these carefully buried works of art may be offerings to spirits dwelling deep within the earth. their hidden presence may have charged the sacred precinct with spiritual energy. the olmec world was alive with unseen spirits that contrled all natural phenomena. thunder cracks ) to represent the power of these mysterious forces, olmec artists combined features of the most fearsome predators of the jungle, creating hybrid images of awe- inspiring supernatural beings.
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lied humans to the forces iruacontrointhe uner. peleelieved that t s could slo tnc and gically transform themselv tohepe oa jagu transported by thianimal spirit, they road the cosmos gaining knowledge that allowed them to ensure rich harvests, heal the sick and protect the community. rulers also claimed the power to mediate between human and spirituarealms. some are shown cradling a supernatural infant-- part human, part jaguar-- who may have been their link to the spiritual world. similar figures appear on sculptur found at la venta thtirlg me to be altars. but decades later, a clue to their true function was discovered far from the coast, at the mntainous site of oxtotitclan.
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its name means "place of caves," which ancient mesoamericans regarded as sacred entrances to the underworld, the mythic realm of ancestral and supernatural spirits. a rock painting above the cave mouth shows a ruler wearing a bird mask and feathered costume. his elaborate throne depicts a monstrous supernatural face, similar to tse on the so-called alta of la venta, indicating thathey, too, were ros. priousesearch proposed that la venta was exclusively a site where priests resided and conducted ritual activities. however, new research has shown that it was a more complex urban area. new speaker: with the new findings, we find a much more dense population,
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not only on the site, on the ancient city, but also in the outlying lowland areas. obregon: dr. alez has ao been studying the central pyramid gonzalez: this pyramid is, for this time period--around 400 b.c.-- probably the largest pyramid he oec world at that time. the olmecs seem to haveacked earth and then held it in place by rows of limestone. obregon: electronic sounding devices have detected a dense, rectangular object, possibly a tb, close to the summit. futu excavions may reveal that this manmade mountain was a ri mou fo oec rer. the extraordinary achievements at la venta and san lorenz were long thought toe uniqueo the coastal lowlands. but ongoing excavations far from the coast indicate otherwise. in the shadow of the volcano popocatepetl
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in the mexican highlands es chalcatzingo, an ancient regional center at its height om arnd 700 to 0 b.c. new speaker: chalcatzin is a unique site in the central mexican highlands. it's the only te in the highlands with bas-relief carvings in the olm style the ancient village of chalcatzingo, set on a terraced hillside-- these were large terraces, perhaps 100 by 100 meters each, at the largest. below the main terrace is a ge platformound. is a large ctgular atform, over 70 mers lon platformounds e ry speal features. unlike a pyramid, a platform can be considered to be a raised stage on which performances, rituals, were carried out that could be viewed by the entire population. a large stone slab carved with an earth monster face with a hollow mouth sat on the northern edge of that platform mound,
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again where it was visible to the houses on all the terraces below. i can almost imagine a ritual with people moving through that open mouth of that carving. obregon: higher up the volcanic spes is a rief scure at t local people call"el "g like the tes ala ven, it shows the figure seated within a cave. grov above the cave are three trobedn ouds. this is a fantastic rain and fertility scene up on the hillside. it's placed right beside the major drainage of rainwater runoff from the hillside. thhillside cvi for peeltionto ensure erli on f weshes ry monent, which call the "flying olme" when i first saw it, i noticed that the headdress on the flying person was very much like nument 19 in la vea.
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not identical, but they were carved in theame way. so there is a connection in some of the art at chaltzingo with la venta's art. thlocation of chalcatzingo, a huge series of valley systems coming together, sort of suggests that maybe chalcatzingo functioned as a gateway city through which goods from across central mexico, and perhaps even western mexico, funneled into chalcatzingo and then moved eastward toward the gulf coast. obrego in the valley of mexico, on the outskirts of mexico city, archaeologists have excavated graves from about 900 b.c. containing clay figures and pottery of the olmec style. other olmec objects have been found in the surrounding highlands and as far south as honduras and costa rica. the wide distribution of olmec works of art suggests that many centers participated
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in the development of the style. distt vies were evidentlyy linked through trade in cacao, white clay for pottery, obsidian, animal skins, and the most precious commodity of all, jade. its nearest known source is in guatemala. this vt tradg network paved the way for the exchange of ideas aselas goo, and led to the ergence of a pan-mesoameran olmec style. miguel covarrubias defined this new aesthetic: "olmec artists were mainly concerned with simplicity and sensual realism of form, with the human being made up of solid, ample masses. they delighted in the smooth, highly polished surfaces of their jades, broken occasionally by fine, incised lines. these lines are sharp and precise."
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this new style, vigorous and original, was perhaps the finest olmec achievement. they created dynamic works of art with a strength and nobility never known before in the americas. the olmec legacy is still being explored, but olmec works of art have been found at maya and aztec sites. did later civilizations preserve olmec jades simply for the value of this precious material, or did they keep them as treasured relics from a culture that influenced their own? only future excavations will tell. but major discoverieare being unearthed each year, bringing us closer to a fuller understanding of that extraordinary culture we call olmec. ( nave drums beating )
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Democracy Now
LINKTV October 17, 2012 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT

News/Business. Independent global news hour featuring news headlines, in depth interviews and investigative reports. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY San Lorenzo 7, La Venta 5, Mexico 4, Americas 3, Stirling Pugh 3, Mesoamerica 3, Chalcatzingo 3, Olmec 2, Costa Rica 2, Tres Zapotes 2, Us 2, Ba 1, Mou 1, Adobe 1, Slo Tnc 1, Theyorked Obdian 1, Stirli Pugh 1, Eric Thompson 1, Philip Dcker 1, La Venta Thtirlg 1
Network LINKTV
Duration 01:00:00
Rating PG
Scanned in San Francisco, CA, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 89 (615 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 544
Pixel height 480
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color

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on 10/17/2012